Tom's reflections so far...
New Assistant Artistic Director (maternity cover) Thomas Goodwin reflects on his new role, the end of term for our apprentice company Sg2 and facilitating a professional development workshop online...
This is Tom here, the new Assistant Artistic Director (maternity cover). I joined the company just as lockdown started so it hasn’t been the most normal entry into a new role!
For the most part, I am working with Sg2 in their development as dancers and performers in training. Sg2 have just completed their Year 1 of training together and will return in September for the final Year 2. As we say goodbye for the summer, I am reflecting on what’s been, to put it mildly, an unusual term!
Meeting online each day for fitness class, contemporary class, one-to-one tutorials, group check-ins, workshops and training is not easy. We’ve all found it difficult. It’s hard to see each other once we are up and moving, so giving instructions, feedback and adjustments happens in a very different way. We had to reassess the emphasis of classes, tasks and assignments. Unfortunately, it is unknown yet if September will be much different. Will artists in training this year miss out? Will they be worse off? ... I don’t think so...
Fundamental questions in any training should be: What are we training for? What are we practising for? I love these questions! I like the word practice. (In American English) it can be a verb or a noun, and I prefer the noun! The verb gets me tied up when I think about what we are experiencing now. Training and practising might suggest future circumstances we are preparing for. Is that even possible? I am definitely no good at predicting the future. But having a practice - something that I do regularly and learn from (whether that’s a way of moving, or exercising or thinking), keeps me feeling ready for and aware of what’s going on around me. Keeping a practice alive is both challenging and rewarding. Practice needs to be consistent and needs to adapt regularly to make way for change in me and my circumstances.
This term, as a way to meet our very different circumstances, we found personal projects that developed practice. They were all individual and unique and also allowed me to get to know the apprentices too - what they are into, what they enjoy, what the challenges are and how we meet those challenges.
I hear the word resilience often used to describe a skill that we are developing right now. It is a tricky word. I like what dance artist Katye Coe says about it:
“Resilience refers to the ability of something (or some body / creature / sentient being) to bounce back, to regain its original form after being compressed by something (think rubber balls I guess). Affirming or promoting resilience implies that (I) am not necessarily changed by what (I) experience – somehow can be skilled up to not be changed permanently by what I encounter / come across/ am compressed by. I find this difficult to reckon with.” katyecoe.org/2018/11/21/changing-again-and-again-and-again/
These times will change us. I don’t want to bounce back into where we were before... I have learnt a lot already. And practice helps me feel ready for where I am. It’s a tool that I have to keep sharp, so that I remain on the edge of my own learning and discovery.
Another helpful subject in all this is navigation. How do I orient myself at the moment? Partly as a way to introduce myself to the company and its community, and partly as a way to orient ourselves and make sense of what is happening right now, last month we organised an online professional development workshop called North Star (www.northstarworkshop.wordpress.com) that I have been evolving for some years now. It is a practical workshop looking at how, as dancers and movers, we know what feels good and easeful in the body - and how this skill or knowing can be used as a navigation tool in our lives to move towards the activities and goals that we find truly satisfying.
It’s never happened online before. I normally really look forward to spending a few days with participants in the studio. I knew it would be quite different online, but I was encouraged and excited about the potential to connect like this. The technology was definitely a challenge, but we made it happen without too many hitches.
We were a group of 30 people made up of Stopgap company members and apprentices, associated artists, and Stopgap friends. We spent 3 afternoons together with various activities such as movement class, group discussion, solo reflection, writing, speaking and listening. We also gave time to be away from the screen with regular breaks, ‘eye drifts’ and sometimes working with the eyes closed. Each activity engaged in questions about what excites us or brings us satisfaction... time to tune our inner compass and bring more clarity to our direction. I often explain in the workshop that the aim is never to arrive at the North Star, but it is a very helpful way to orientate yourself, to know where you are... and just like practice needs attending to so that it remains current and relevant.
Doing these activities together when connection is not currently easy, feels important. And I am learning more and more about how the use of technology can give access where access is not always easy, to more and more people in the long term, beyond current restrictions.
I know Stopgap is a major champion of accessibility and inclusion, and as we start to grow our skill in running classes, workshops and events online, in authentic and beneficial ways, I am excited to think about how far we can reach with this content - those in different countries, with diverse backgrounds and distinct stories. Nothing can replace being together in a studio, but the divergent bridges that can be built in these new ways are exciting, valuable and worthwhile.
Sometimes I am not much of a technophile, but when I look to the horizon, I am seeing good things. Through offering guidance and opportunities to those far and wide to develop practice and navigation skills, we can contribute to the collective needs and help move towards what we want to see in the world. Over the summer we are going to develop, re-think, re-imagine and upcycle how we make generous offers of learning and connection to the Stopgap community and beyond.
Watch this space...
Stopgap is currently running a series of online classes on our Facebook Group. If you would like to join in, click here.